Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

June 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Oops … I did it again!

On May 19, 2019, I helped launch my 35th cohort of Augustana grads on an unsuspecting world. With modest pomp, stirring music, one thoughtful address (that no one will remember) and one clunky one (likewise, thank God), I participated in the college’s 159th commencement. Afterward, by long tradition, the graduates filtered through the throng of faculty, exchanging tears and laughter, thanks and hugs.

And then they were gone. It’s bittersweet to have a career forever predicated upon bidding farewell to amazing young folks just as they hit their stride. They were a challenge, and they’re Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Zeo Sustainable Credit Fund (ZSRIX)

By David Snowball

On May 31, 2019, Zeo Capital Advisors launched Zeo Sustainable Credit Fund (ZSRIX). The fund seeks to provide risk-adjusted total returns consisting of income and moderate capital appreciation. This marks the launch of Zeo’s second fund, after Zeo Short Duration Income (ZEOIX).

ZEOIX has performed exceedingly well over its eight years. The fund’s risk-adjusted returns have been best-in-class and its expenses have fallen. The limitation perceived by some of its major investors is that it is duration-constrained; that is, it doesn’t have the flexibility to pursue many attractive longer-duration opportunities. ZSRIX is designed to Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Cannabis Growth Fund (CANNX/CANIX)

By David Snowball

On February 22, 2019, Foothill Capital Management launched the Cannabis Growth Fund (CANNX/CANIX). The fund seeks to provide long-term capital appreciation through investing globally in companies “engaged exclusively in legal cannabis activities under applicable national and local laws, including U.S. federal and state law.” This marks the launch Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

The Balter Invenomic Fund (BIVIX) is in the process of shedding Balter. As a practical matter, that will translate to a name change, Invenomic Fund, and little more. BIVIX is, as we noted in our May 2019 profile, an exceptionally strong performer with steady asset growth.  The manager is both talented and self-assured, so I’m not particularly concerned though I am curious. The proxy document offers this somewhat cryptic explanation for the change:

BLA (i.e., Balter Liquid Alts) informed the Board that it was making this request because it is currently exiting the investment advisory business due to uncertainty involving a “seed investor” which could potentially affect its ability to provide services to the Fund and other funds in the future. BLA believes that this transition is in the best interest of the Fund and its shareholders as it will provide continuity for the Fund and create a more direct relationship between shareholders and Invenomic. The seed investor currently holds a non-voting equity interest in BLA and initially contributed seed capital for the Fund. 

Continue reading →

May 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

HESCO barriers are really impressive.  They were conceived by James “Jimi” Heselden, a British entrepreneur and former coal miner. They are, at base, portable protective barriers; a box of heavy steel mesh that gets lined with a heavy plastic tarp and filled with sand. Start to finish, two guys and a front-loader can get one of these things built, positioned and filled in 20 minutes. The alternative, about 1500 sandbags, would take 10 guys far longer.  They’re strong enough that the military uses them as blast-proof fortifications and governments worldwide use them as protection against hurricanes. They can be strung together to form a continuous barrier a mile long.

They’re really impressive.

But the Mississippi, running at flood crest, is Continue reading →

The Investors Guide to the End of the World, Part 2: Concrete advice

By David Snowball

Much has been written about the threat of climate destabilization and investors are more and more aware that there are distinct challenges between posed to their own portfolios. Whether it’s rising sea levels, intolerable summer temperatures, frequent extreme weather (droughts, super-sized hurricanes, flooding, blizzards) or assertive government regulators, it is clear that these things are going to impact our portfolios.

But how? What, other than moving to Minnesota (or investing in Mairs & Power, which is located in Minnesota and is famous for investing in Minnesotans), should Continue reading →

April 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s been an especially distressing month. Rapid and widespread flooding following a hard winter destroyed the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of good folks in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Levees failed, bridges and roads were swept away, homes and equipment left mangled. Many are in despair at the loss of thousands of newborn calves, with loss to private and public property exceeding a billion dollars. At the same time, Cyclone Idai, the second-worst in the region’s history, swept across eastern Africa, likely killing more than a thousand and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and hungry. While it is only “weather,” persistent patterns in the weather define our climate and the pattern of the past five years has been increasing numbers of extreme weather events.  We really need to work together to figure out how best to manage these challenges.

Speaking of challenges, presidential wannabees are beginning to Continue reading →

Death Cleaning my portfolio

By David Snowball

Or, since I teach at a historically Swedish-Lutheran college, I might use the original Swedish term: I was döstädning my portfolio.

By way of background, my income comes from teaching at the aforementioned Augustana College; it’s exceedingly secure but has not increased much, in real or inflation-adjusted terms, in quite a while. It has “bond-like” qualities. I invest about 13% pretax for retirement, the college has a match that adds about 10% and I squirrel away around 10% of my take-home pay each month. Our home in Davenport is small, snug and affordable. Our cars are used but clean and efficient. Our splurges often enough involve live music and Continue reading →

Learning from the fall fall

By David Snowball

The last substantial decline in the US stock market occurred between 2007-09. Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX) declined by 50.9% and remained under water for 52 months. Vanguard International Stock Market Index (VGTSX) fell 58.5% and did not recover for 114 months. Investors in Vanguard Emerging Market Index (VEIEX) would be at least a little envious of the fact that VGTSX investors were in the red for almost ten years, since they were at a loss for more than 10 years after their portfolio hit bottom. Investors who hewed to the “stocks for the long-term” mantra and faithfully held their VEIEX shares ended the decade with an average annual loss of 0.1%.

The good news is that Continue reading →

ETFs and the fine art of propaganda

By David Snowball

I teach about propaganda and persuasion for a living. “Propaganda” in the Hitler, Goebbels, rise of the Nazis sense of the term. It’s an important and fascinating study, though it seems reasonably tangential to contemporary investing.

Then I started reading about ETF marketing.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1937-1942, was an honest attempt to help American citizens detect and dissect Continue reading →

Finding ESG Fund One

By David Snowball

By Morningstar’s calculation, there are 486 “socially-conscious” funds.  While bond and mixed-asset funds can be “socially-conscious,” Morningstar does not rate the sustainability of their portfolios. If you subtract the 183 funds in those categories, you’re left with 303 “socially-conscious” equity funds. Only 93 (or 31%) have portfolios that score “high” on Morningstar’s sustainability ratings while 101 more are “above average,” so about two-thirds of ESG funds earn good-to-great sustainability scores.

At the other end of the spectrum, 18 (about 6%, including one with “environmental” in the name) have the Continue reading →

Brown Advisory Sustainable Growth Fund (BAFWX/BIAWX/BAWAX)

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The managers seek long-term capital appreciation by investing in a concentrated portfolio of 30-40 mid and large capitalization companies that use sustainable business strategies (SBA) to drive future earnings growth.

They focus on finding companies whose sustainability strategies are generating tangible business results such as revenue growth, cost improvement, or enhanced franchise value. Such companies may enjoy competitive advantages from environmentally efficient design or manufacturing or offer Continue reading →

Briefly Noted . . .

By David Snowball

Each month we share developments in the industry that are, individually, to minor to warrant their own story. Since about three-quarters of it are stories of failure and the subsequent thrashing about, it mostly gets downplayed. This month saw, in particular, the liquidation of a lot of funds that were trying to deal with a low-interest rate, high stock valuation world: their names invoke global allocations and global bonds, alternative and unconstrained income, flexible opportunities and the occasional quantamental bent. Continue reading →

March 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s spring and it’s about 10 degrees above zero here which means it’s Spring Break at Augustana College! Winter term on Augie’s singularly bizarre academic calendar runs from roughly Halloween to Valentine’s Day, gulping down Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s along the way. We offer, I suppose, the antithesis of the old MTV spring break beach parties with raucous guys dancing with girlfriends clad only in whipped cream. Nope, Swedish-Lutherans we, we hand the kids their parkas and urge them to go off and have a good time, but just Continue reading →

The Investor’s Guide to the End of the World

By David Snowball

Human actions are causing our planet’s climate to become increasingly unstable. We are beyond the point where that fact is open to debate. Most Americans, Republicans and Democrats both, now accept the reality of climate change. That’s based on fascinating data visualizations provided by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Republicans, far more than Democrats and others, are unsure that there’s a human role or that scientists have reached agreement on what is happening.

The short version is that every serious inquiry reaches the same conclusion: the climate Continue reading →

Vanguard – Going, Going, Gone!

By Ira Artman

January 2019 will be remembered by mutual fund and Vanguard investors for a few things.  Besides the stock market recovery that largely reversed the year-end 2018 selloff, the following two things occurred:

  • On January 16th, John Bogle, age 89, died in his home in Pennsylvania. Mr. Bogle’s efforts on behalf of indexing and individual investors were widely honored and remembered.
  • On January 22nd, Vanguard created the PDF for the Wellington Fund Annual Report, dated November 30, 2018.  The US Postal Service distributed paper copies of this report during the first week of February.

Continue reading →

Launch Alert – DoubleLine Colony Real Estate and Income Fund (DBRIX/DLREX)

By Dennis Baran

On December 17, 2018, DoubleLine launched the DoubleLine Colony Real Estate and Income Fund. It seeks capital appreciation and income with returns in excess of its benchmark, the Dow Jones U.S. Select REIT Index over a full market cycle. The managers will use derivatives to create investment returns that approximate the returns of the newly-launch Colony Capital Fundamental US Real Estate Index. To the extent that there’s additional capital available, they will also invest in an Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

The Ghost Ship sails every onward. Voya Corporate Leaders (LEXCX, once Lexington Corporate Leaders) continues its skipperless voyage. The fund was launched in 1935 with a simple strategy (buy an equal number of shares of what were then America’s best companies, and never sell) and no manager. Right: no manager changes in more than 83 years ‘cause it’s had no manager in more than 83 years. How’s that working for Continue reading →